Eating to Train


Eating to Train involves choosing the foods and fluids that keep your body fit and healthy while helping you perform at your peak.


During exercise, the body relies on two main fuel reserves for energy. These are the fat stores (or adipose tissue) and the carbohydrate stores, known as glycogen. Even the leanest athlete
has lots of energy stored as fat, however glycogen stores are relatively small.

When glycogen stores become depleted, energy levels drop and performance deteriorates. To ensure that glycogen stores remain filled, it is important to consume a diet high in carbohydrate.
After hard training sessions or competition, extra carbohydrate needs to be consumed to help replenish the glycogen used up during exercise. Most sportspeople will need between 5 to 10 grams
carbohydrate per kilogram bodyweight per day, depending on the activity level.

To meet carbohydrate needs each day, it is important to include plenty of nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods such as breads, grains, cereals, pasta, fruit, vegetables, and legumes (beans, peas,
lentils etc). These foods provide important B-group vitamins and minerals, as well as dietary fibre. Some athletes will also need to include carbohydrate as sugar, in the form of spreads,
sports drinks, low fat desserts and low fat snack bars, to meet their high carbohydrate requirements.

As well as aiming for the right quantity of carbohydrate each day, recent research suggests that athletes will also benefit from selecting specific types of high carbohydrate foods. The
glycaemic index ranks a particular food based on the immediate effect it has on a person's blood sugar levels. A Sports Dietitian can provide you with further information about the glycaemic

Only small amounts of fat are used during exercise, therefore only a small percentage of energy every day should come from fats. A diet too high in fat will result in a carbohydrate intake
that is too low. Fat intake can be kept low by choosing low fat dairy foods, lean meats and skinless poultry, low fat sauces and dressings and limiting added fats, fried foods, pastry and

Protein is essential for growth and muscle and tissue repair. During endurance activity, a small amount of protein will be used as fuel. Requirements for protein vary depending upon a
person's age, sex and type and level of physical activity. However, most athletes will need between 1.2 - 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day.

Most athletes will easily meet protein requirements by including lean red meat, poultry, fish, and/or eggs and low fat dairy foods in the diet each day. Vegetarian athletes and those on very
high carbohydrate intakes, or very low kilojoule/calorie intakes, however, may be at risk of inadequate protein intake. Legumes, soy milk, tofu, nuts, grains and cereals can provide adequate
protein if eaten regularly and in appropriate quantities.

A person can survive for weeks without food, but you would be lucky to survive more than a few days without water. The human body is 60% water and, if for any reason this percentage drops
significantly, there is the danger of dehydration. Signs of dehydration and heat stress include cramping, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and
requires urgent attention. During training is the time to establish healthy fluid replacement habits. Remember that thirst is not an accurate indicator of fluid needs. Training is also the
time to experiment with different sports drinks. Using a carbohydrate/electrolyte drink may be useful during and between events.

Meeting vitamin and mineral requirements is very important for good health and optimal performance. Most athletes should be eating large enough volumes of food to meet energy needs. There are
certain groups of athletes, however, who are more at risk of having an inadequate dietary intake of certain vitamins and minerals. These include those on vegetarian diets, those on strict
weight reduction regimes, those who smoke heavily and drink alcohol excessively and those who rely on convenience foods. Athletes who avoid food groups such as dairy products, or who have
extremely high carbohydrate intakes, may also risk deficient intakes. If you fall into these categories, aim to improve your diet.
A diagnosed nutritional deficiency, such as iron or zinc deficiency, may indicate the need for specific supplementation to increase the levels of these nutrients, in conjunction with
increasing the dietary intake.

Low body fat levels and high muscle mass are attributes desired by most sportspeople. Whilst maintaining a lean physique is important in many sports, its importance should not override other
dietary goals. Most athletes will benefit from a formal body composition assessment with a sports dietitian or exercise physiologist, with realistic, individual goals set.

Suggested reading

1. Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance, Burke, L. Allen & Unwin, 1992.
2. Food for Sport Cookbook, Inge & Roberts, Rene Gordon, 1993.
3. High Performance Training Diet, Ricegrowers Australia.
4. The Taste of Fitness, O'Connor & Hay, JB Fairfax Press, 1996.
5. Footy Food, Garden L, 1993.
6. Gold Medal Nutrition, Cardwell, G, 1996.

Organisations & support groups

All information has been compiled by Lorna Garden, leading Sports Dietitian.
For further information or individual advice, contact Sports Dietitians Australia on (03) 9682 2442 for a referral to your nearest Sports Dietitian.

Pharmacist's advice

Ask your Pharmacist for advice
1) Eating enough carbohydrate and drinking enough fluid are priorities for most sportspeople.
2) Athletes with diagnosed nutrient deficiencies may require appropriate supplements to bring levels back to normal e.g., vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc.
3) Sportspeople needing a low dose multivitamin/mineral supplement should also be encouraged to improve their diet.
4) An antioxidant supplement from your Pharmacy (containing vitamin C and vitamin E) may be of benefit to athletes in intensive training.


The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and should be used as a guide only. This information does not replace or substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before any action is taken based on the content of this webpage.

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